Bye, Paul Ryan

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Trump Maladministration

Several news outlets are reporting that Paul Ryan will announce today that he is not seeking re-election and will retire from the House.

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Citizen Cohen

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Trump Maladministration

Trump supporters are whining that Michael Cohen is being treated like a mob lawyer. Yeah, he is, isn’t he? And probably for good reason.

Several op eds and analyses say it is extraordinarily difficult to get a search warrant on records from a lawyer unless there is really, really, really solid evidence that said lawyer is engaged in criminal activity. And there would have to be good reason to think that a subpoena wouldn’t do.

Whatever evidence federal prosecutors have collected concerning Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime attorney, it is most likely extraordinarily strong.

Before federal agents raided Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office Monday afternoon, they would have had to convince high-ranking officials at the Department of Justice and a federal judge that a search warrant was necessary to obtain the evidence sought.

“Doing a search warrant rather than a subpoena suggests the investigators thought Cohen, if given a subpoena, would possibly destroy evidence or withhold key evidence, particularly if it were incriminating,” Clinton Watts, a former FBI agent and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said.

So, yes, raiding rather than subpoena-ing is what is done with mob lawyers who are thought to be themselves engaged in ongoing criminal activity. It would not be done if the lawyer were only representing someone thought to be guilty of ongoing criminal activity.

If Cohen were being raided only for material related to the Stormy Daniels payoff, it could be argued that he hadn’t been acting as Trump’s lawyer, since Trump himself said he didn’t know anything about it. But even then I don’t think they would have raided Cohen if they didn’t think he himself had reason to hide something pretty consequential from the law. Whether that “something” also incriminates Trump is not something we can know, yet.

Several news outlets are reporting this morning that yesterday’s raid was looking for information on payments to women, not just Stormy Daniels. But many people are skeptical that’s all the raid was about. As Josh Marshall wrote, what we know about the payment to Stormy Daniels and probably other women doesn’t rise to the level of gravity “to merit this kind of action.”

CNN is reporting that the FBI also sought information relating to Cohen’s ownership of taxi medallions. There have been rumors that Cohen’s taxi business is somehow connected to the Russian mob and various criminal activities. So maybe Cohen literally is a mob lawyer. But I can’t find anything more than rumors. There’s also talk of bank fraud, which might relate to where Cohen got the money to pay off Daniels et al., and campaign finance violations, which might relate to seeing the payoff money as campaign contributions, which I understand is a stretch.

ABC is reporting that the warrant was not sought by the U.S. Attorney from the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, because Berman (a Trump appointee who was interviewed by Trump for the job) actually is recused from the Michael Cohen investigation. The raid was handled by other people in Berman’s office and approved by a judge.

Now, why did Mueller hand off this investigation to the Justice Department and the Southern District of New York? It might really be that what Cohen is suspected of doing really isn’t related to Trump or the Trump campaign. But let’s assume that isn’t it.

Jed Shugerman writes at Slate,

Why might this U.S. attorney’s office have been involved? One answer is the most basic: a raid of at least two locations simultaneously—office and hotel—requires a lot of bodies and coordination. If you need that many FBI agents, you already need to coordinate with the local office for it to go smoothly. Former prosecutors say that Mueller might have referred this raid to the Southern District for logistical reasons alone. But he still chose to refer the investigation to this U.S. attorney’s office rather than simply use their logistical support.

What else might this move tell us about Robert Mueller’s thinking? First, remember that Mueller has learned that Trump has already tried to fire him, and the person who reportedlystopped him—White House counsel Don McGahn—is rumored to be on his way out of the administration.

The Post is reporting that the subject of the Cohen warrant was an investigation into possible bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations, possibly related to a hush money contract with adult film performer Stormy Daniels. Mueller probably could have made a claim that Cohen already fell under his jurisdiction, which is to investigate Russian election interference, links between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” But it has been reported that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the call to involve the U.S. attorney, and perhaps Rosenstein made a strategic calculation about Trump, or they agreed together. It seems, though, that both men know they need to spread Mueller’s work around as a hedge against his firing, and maybe even to try to deter Trump from firing him.

In other words, in order to shut down the investigation Trump would have to not just stop Mueller’s investigation, he’d also have to move against the Southern District of New York.

Republicans are warning Trump not to fire Mueller. Whether there is anything that can be done to protect Mueller is a matter of dispute.  But it’s not hard to imagine that Republicans in Congress really don’t want to deal with the fallout of another Saturday Night Massacre. Especially not in a midterm year.

Meanwhile, Mueller himself is making other news.

The special counsel is investigating a payment made to President Trump’s foundation by a Ukrainian steel magnate for a talk during the campaign, according to three people briefed on the matter, as part of a broader examination of streams of foreign money to Mr. Trump and his associates in the years leading up to the election.

Investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization this year for an array of records about business with foreign nationals. In response, the company handed over documents about a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance by hMr. Trump that month through a video link to a conference in Kiev.

Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer whose office and hotel room were raided on Monday in an apparently unrelated case, solicited the donation.

Oh, my. And did any of that $150,000 find its way into the Trump campaign, I wonder? Trump has already been caught using his “foundation” as a slush fund for self-dealing (which is something he’s accused Hillary Clinton of doing, without evidence).

Mr. Mueller has also examined a deal Mr. Cohen was putting together with Mr. Trump to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Mr. Trump said last summer that Mr. Mueller should not look at his or his family’s finances beyond issues related directly to Russia.

But the special counsel’s investigators have questioned witnesses about whether money from the Persian Gulf had been used to finance Mr. Trump’s political efforts and asked for information on Mr. Pinchuk.

So, Cohen could have lots of information on Trump that is very incriminating, indeed.

Here’s a rundown of Trump associates who are under investigation, under indictment, or have already pleaded guilty.

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Michael Cohen Gets Searched and Seized

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Trump Maladministration

Lots of juicy news is breaking about Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen. Today the FBI raided Cohen’s Manhattan law offices and his hotel suite in the Loews Regency on Park Avenue. Cohen’s attorney said in a statement. “I have been advised by federal prosecutors that the New York action is, in part, a referral by the Office of Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”

Word is that Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations, and the records seized included those pertaining to the payoff to Stormy Daniels. That sound you hear is coming from Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, who is whooping it up. According to WaPo,

Among the documents seized were privileged communications between Cohen and his clients — including those with Trump, according to a person familiar with the investigators’ work. Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, the person said.

Good times.

Update: Just heard on NBC that Rod Rosenstein signed off on the raids, and Trump just called the Mueller investigation “an attack on our country.” Will Trump be restrained from firing Rosenstein and Mueller?

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Trump Is Handed a Clue That Syria Is Complicated. Will He Notice?

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Trump Maladministration

Of all the times for things to go to hell in Syria, it had to be just as Freaking Lunatic Whackjob John Bolton is taking over as National Security Adviser to Clueless Malevolent Moron Trump. They might as well call in Dick the Dick Cheney to complete the Trifecta of Doom.

James Hohmann:

A year ago, President Trump’s new administration announced that removing Assad from power was no longer a priority of the United States government. Soon afterward, the man known as “the Butcher of Damascus” launched a sarin attack that killed more than 80 Syrians. Seeing gruesome images of murdered children prompted Trump to order airstrikes on the airfield that had been used by planes that dropped the gas.

Fast forward almost exactly one year. During a rally in Ohio the Thursday before last,Trump contradicted and undercut months of public commitments from diplomatic and military leaders that America would not cut and run from Syria. Speaking off the cuff during what was supposed to be a speech about infrastructure, the president declared: “We’ll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon. Let the other people take care of it now!”

The next day, news broke that Trump had suspended more than $200 million in stabilization funds for Syrian recovery efforts — to the grave consternation of the professionals at Foggy Bottom.

“I want to get out,” Trump added last Tuesday at the White House during a news conference with Baltic leaders. “I want to bring our troops back home. … It’s time.”

This declaration caught military commanders off guard. Top national security aides persuaded Trump not to immediately pull out the 2,000 Americans who are on the ground during a meeting later in the day. Then they crafted a statement in the Situation Room designed to reassure allies in the region. But for Assad and his patrons in Moscow and Tehran, the president’s preferences were crystal clear.

Then, on Saturday night, at least 40 people were killed in another apparent chemical attack on a besieged, rebel-held enclave near Damascus.

It’s a damn shame Trump is too bleeping stupid to make the connection between his own words and their consequences.

Max Boot, remembered for his knee-jerk support of the Bush-Cheney atrocities in the Middle East, is singing a different tune with Trump:

On April 7, 2017, the U.S. armed forces fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase to punish Bashar al-Assad for his use of chemical weapons against his own citizens. The Syrian president reportedly celebrated the one-year anniversary of the strike on Saturday by ordering another attack with chemical weapons that opposition activists said killed dozens of people in the city of Douma. This appears to be at least the eighth such attack by Assad this year — and the most brazen. Having seen that the United States would not react to his repeated violations of international laws, Assad has intensified his use of weapons of mass destruction. …

….Since taking a victory lap for his cruise-missile strike, Trump has left Assad, along with his Russian and Iranian backers, undisturbed to continue their meticulous work of mass murder. Trump even discontinued support for rebel groups fighting Assad and instead focused narrowly on the goal of eradicating the Islamic State. Now, with the finish line in sight, Trump appears to have set a deadline of October for the Defense Department to pull our troops out — even though the Pentagon, State Department, CIA, Israel and the Arab states are all telling him that this would be a monumental mistake. A premature departure will risk the success of the anti-Islamic State campaign and hand eastern Syria to Assad and his patrons.

Trump announced today that he would decide “soon” what to do about Syria. He’s treating the crisis like a reality show episode. See also Trump’s real Syria policy is hypocrisy.

Juan Cole provides background on what’s going on in Syria. He adds:

Trump’s response to Khan Sheykhoun in 2017 was a one-off with no real military or political impact. I strongly suspect that any response he makes now will be similar, a fireworks show for his domestic constituency without much downstream consequence in Syria itself.

Obama decided not to bomb Syria in September of 2013 because the British parliament voted against a joint operation and because the Republicans in Congress made it clear that they would not support an Obama strike on Syria. Russia offered to sequester Syrian sarin gas stockpiles, and Obama took them up on the offer. It appears that some 90 percent of the sarin stockpiles were in fact destroyed or removed. Saturday’s attack used chlorine, a common industrial chemical.

Since Trump’s own strike on the Shuayrat base last year did not forestall the Douma gassing, it is difficult to understand why Trump thinks a strike in 2013 by Mr. Obama would have done so.

The big question is whether the mercurial and erratic Trump will now rethink his decision to get out of Syria entirely by next fall. The US special operations troops that would be pulled out are in the Syrian far east, embedded among Kurds, and have nothing to do with the Damascus area.

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In the Nooz: Pruitt, Kushner, Manafort

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Trump Maladministration

The AP reports:

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s concern with his safety came at a steep cost to taxpayers as his swollen security detail blew through overtime budgets and at times diverted officers away from investigating environmental crimes.

Altogether, the agency spent millions of dollars for a 20-member full-time detail that is more than three times the size of his predecessor’s part-time security contingent.

Pruitt is clearly a five-alarm flake. I recall that his background is entirely in law and Oklahoma politics, not in business. As much as I hold corporations and CEOs in disdain, I think even Exxon would have weeded this whackjob out.

Pruitt’s ambitious domestic and international travel led to rapidly escalating costs, with the security detail racking up so much overtime that many hit annual salary caps of about $160,000. The demands of providing 24-hour coverage even meant taking some investigators away from field work, such as when Pruitt traveled to California for a family vacation.

The EPA official said total security costs approached $3 million when pay is added to travel expenses.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said late Friday that Pruitt has faced an “unprecedented” amount of death threats against him and his family.

However,

A nationwide search of state and federal court records by AP found no case where anyone has been arrested or charged with threatening Pruitt. EPA’s press office did not respond Friday to provide details of any specific threats or arrests.

Pruitt has said his use of first-class airfare was initiated following unpleasant interactions with other travelers. In one incident, someone yelled a profanity as he walked through the airport.

Pruitt has been dragging this oversize security detail around with him on family vacations. The article also says that on occasions when Pruitt has to pay for his own plane tickets, he flies coach. Apparently he’s a five-alarm tightwad with his own money.  He got behind on paying the people who were giving him the sweet deal on the Capitol Hill brownstone, and he wasn’t taking their hints he should leave, so they changed the locks.

Now, on to Jared Kushner. Somehow, the Kushner Company got the money to buy out its partner in the 666 Fifth Avenue property.  Vornado Realty Trust is selling its shares to the Kushners. But no one seems to know if this means the Kushners have a new partner or where the money came from.  WTF? And why would the Kushners want to double down on this turkey?

Note also that JP Morgan Chase agreed to a $600 million loan to help the Kushners develop the Brooklyn properties I wrote about awhile back. Seems a bit risky, JP Morgan Chase.

Paul Manafort keeps trying to wriggle out of being prosecuted by Robert Mueller. He’s filed motions to dismiss the cases against him, none successful so far. Late yesterday he filed a motion arguing that evidence found in a storage unit should be suppressed because the FBI lacked a proper warrant.

The FBI first got into the Alexandria, Va. storage unit last May with the assistance of an employee who worked at two or more of Manafort’s companies, an agent told the federal magistrate judge who issued the warrant. Then, the agent used what he saw written on so-called Banker’s Boxes and the fact there was a five-drawer filing cabinet to get permission to return and seize many of the records. …

… The warrant U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan issued for the storage locker on May 27 authorized FBI agents to seize virtually any financial or tax records relating to Manafort or his business partner Rick Gates. Also approved for seizure were any records relating to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, his Party of Regions, a pro-Ukraine think tank called the European Center for a Modern Ukraine and a slew of offshore companies connected to Manafort.

The warrant also indicates that among the records FBI agents were authorized to seize from Manafort’s unit were all records “related to, discussing or documenting the Podesta Group.” Manafort engaged the Podesta Group for Ukraine-related lobbying. The lobbying group belatedly filed a foreign agent registration for that work last year. Earlier this year, the Podesta Group abruptly disbanded. It has not been charged.

Manafort’s lawyers are arguing that the employee was not authorized to allow anyone into the unit and that the warrant was overly broad. I’m no lawyer, but this seems a stretch.

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Icahn to Pruitt to Porter to Daniels et al. to Cohen to Trump, and Beyond

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Trump Maladministration

Summarizing this Rachel Maddow segment would be too time consuming, so please watch the video. You can skip the first three minutes if you are short on time.

Before you lift your jaw off the floor, here’s a juicy bit Maddow left out. Samantha Dravis, the woman on the payroll who couldn’t be bothered to come to work, is a former girlfriend of Rob Porter.

Josh Marshall writes,

InsideEPA, an EPA trade sheet, reports that Scott Pruitt’s downfall is the work of disgraced former White House aide Rob Porter, who leaked damaging information about Pruitt to retaliate against a former girlfriend who told White House officials about Porter’s history of domestic violence.

As was basically reported at the time, Porter’s downfall seems to have started when a former girlfriend, Samantha Dravis, went to White House officials and told them what she knew about Porter’s past, particularly his abuse of two ex-wives. Dravis was a top aide to Scott Pruitt, the EPA Administrator. …

… Dravis’s resignation was announced earlier today.

There’s also a lot of new reporting about Michael Cohen’s business deals and how they might be interesting to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Investigators were particularly interested in interactions involving Michael D. Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney and a former Trump Organization employee. Among other things, Cohen was involved in business deals secured or sought by the Trump Organization in Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.

And what about the infamous $130,000 Cohen paid Stormy Daniels that Trump says he knew nothing about? It seems unlikely that Cohen just casually shelled out that much money out of his own pocket to any woman who claimed an affair with Trump.  That money had to come from somewhere. This suddenly puts the Daniels saga into the middle of the rest of Trump’s messes, and possibly connects to the Russian investigation if any of that hush money can be traced to overseas sources.

Finally, just to get a better idea of what a freak show the Trump Administration is, see “Rex Tillerson’s $12 million army of consultants.”

It was one of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s core goals: radically reshaping the State Department to make it leaner, cheaper and modernized to the standards of a former private-sector CEO.

Now that Tillerson has been fired, the vaunted “Redesign” initiative he launched faces an uncertain future, but at least one clear legacy: around $12 million spent just for private consultants who in some cases charged the State Department more than $300 an hour.

Yep; Tillerson had hired a bunch of pricey business consultants to come in and make the State Department more “efficient.” Yet Tillerson refused to work with anyone who had any experience with the State Department and appeared to not appreciate that it wasn’t Exxon, or even Procter & Gamble.

Congressional aides and former State Department officials noted that, despite months of work, Tillerson’s redesign initiative has had few, if any, tangible accomplishments. …

…Tillerson and his top aides “had disdain for the professionals,” one former senior State Department official said. “You had years of blueprints for reform developed internally, two QDDR documents, and thousands of career officers and civil servants who crave change and reform and would’ve been thrilled to work on this effort at no added taxpayer expense.”

“Instead,” the former official added, “they chose to lavish money on contractors and consultants who knew nothing about the organization.”

If you have ever worked for a company that hired outside consultants to “streamline” things, and the consultants turned out to be a pack of clueless empty (but very expensive) suits who spent no time talking to employees and whose recommendations totally bleeped up your department because the suits had no clue what your department even did when they issued their recommendations, you’ll appreciate this.

One State staffer on the redesign team complained about the Insigniam consultants in particular, saying they showed a poor grasp of how the State Department functions and little appreciation for diplomats’ training and experience. In one meeting with State Department employees last year, the staffer recalled, the Insigniam consultants puzzled their audience with an awkward attempt at explaining the importance of context in conversations.

“They would say something like, ‘If I said to you, ‘Get me some water,’ you’d know to get a cup and go to the sink and bring me back the water, but if you said that to someone in China, they might just scoop up some water from a puddle on the ground.’ And they said this to a room full of diplomats!” the staffer said. “It was painful. We were literally objecting to the way they were talking. We were trying to educate them on what we did so that they could actually help do the job they were hired to do.”

Yep. That’s what running the government like a business looks like.

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Our Authoritarian Moment

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Trump Maladministration

Over the years we’ve talked a lot about right-wing authoritarianism here on The Mahablog. I’ve said in the past that much of the U.S. political and social Right amounts to an authoritarian movement dressed up to look like populism. That was before Trump; now it’s twice as true.

Tom Edsall has a column up called “The Contract With Authoritarianism.” He calls the Trump Administration an “authoritarian moment,” but he also notes that this moment has roots in Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America.” Actually it has roots that go back a long time before that; Richard Hofstadter wrote about right-wing authoritarians (which he called pseudo-conservatives) back in the 1950s and 1960s, and he traced their origins to several decades before that.

Anyway, Edsall notes some new books coming out analyzing our current political climate in terms of authoritarians versus people who genuinely appreciate liberty and autonomy. One of the book authors wrote, “Authoritarianism is now more deeply bound up with partisan identities. It has become part and parcel of Republican identity among non-Hispanic white Americans.” Another said,

Over the last few decades, party allegiances have become increasingly tied to a core dimension of personality we call “openness.” Citizens high in openness value independence, self-direction, and novelty, while those low in openness value social cohesion, certainty, and security. Individual differences in openness seem to underpin many social and cultural disputes, including debates over the value of racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity, law and order, and traditional values and social norms.

Johnston notes that personality traits like closed mindedness, along with aversion to change and discomfort with diversity, are linked to authoritarianism:

As these social and cultural conflicts have become a bigger part of our political debates, citizens have sorted into different parties based on personality, with citizens high in openness much more likely to be liberals and Democrats than those low in openness. This psychological sorting process does not line up perfectly with older partisan differences based on class, because those higher in income and education also tend to be higher in openness.

So, in our endless squabbles over whether Trump voters were more motivated by economic anxiety or by racism, the answer seems to be that anxiety and racism are part and parcel of the same syndrome. The decades-long pattern of disappearing manufacturing, mining and other once-secure jobs and reduced opportunity in much of “red” America fuels resistance to other changes such as increasing racial and social diversity. And for decades our so-called “liberal” leadership in the Democratic Party has allowed this situation to fester without really addressing it in any comprehensive way. Republicans never addressed it either, of course, but then Republicans never even pretended to be for working people, until recently.

If you understand all this, it’s clear that what’s fueling much of our gun craziness is plain old fear. Firearm rights activists may talk about liberty, but what they mean by that is security. They are obsessed with being able to defend themselves against whatever frightens them. And, of course, to many of us their fears are irrational; the proliferation of guns (plus fear) themselves are a bigger threat. (See “Guns are responsible for the largest share of U.S. homicides in over 80 years, federal mortality data shows.”) But no amount of reasoning will help them see that.

Plus, people who genuinely value liberty do not use intimidation to deprive others of liberty. Intimidation is the tool of authoritarianism. In particular, what is “open carry” about but the right to intimidate?

This week the Right worked itself up into a frenzy because of reports of a caravan — which included women and children escaping violence — that was moving north through Mexico toward the U.S. border.

With a sarcastic half-smile, Nikolle Contreras, 27, surveyed her fellow members of the Central American caravan, which President Trump has called dangerous and has used as a justification to send troops to the border.

More than 1,000 people, mostly women and children, waited patiently on Wednesday in the shade of trees and makeshift shelters in a rundown sports complex in this Mexican town, about 600 miles south of the border. They were tired, having slept and eaten poorly for more than a week. All were facing an uncertain future.

“Imagine that!” said Ms. Contreras, a Honduran factory worker hoping to apply for asylum in the United States. “So many problems he has to solve and he gets involved with this caravan!”

The migrants, most of them Hondurans, left the southern Mexican border city of Tapachula on March 25 and for days traveled north en masse — by foot, hitchhiking and on the tops of trains — as they fled violence and poverty in their homelands and sought a better life elsewhere.

This sort of collective migration has become something of an annual event around Easter week, and a way for advocates to draw more attention to the plight of migrants.

If you were paying no attention to right-wing media you might not have heard of any of this, but I take it the Right went full-scale insane about the caravan. Trump watches Fox News, so he’s ordered National Guard to patrol the border. Meanwhile, a Latina friend on Facebook wrote,

It got so bad even a writer for Breitbart told people to chill.

The coverage became so distorted that it prompted a reporter for Breitbart News who covers border migration, Brandon Darby, to push back. “I’m seeing a lot of right media cover this as ‘people coming illegally’ or as ‘illegal aliens.’ That is incorrect,” he wrote on Twitter. “They are coming to a port of entry and requesting refugee status. That is legal.”

In an interview, Mr. Darby said it was regrettable that the relatively routine occurrence of migrant caravans — which organizers rely on as a safety-in-numbers precaution against the violence that can happen along the trek — was being politicized. “The caravan isn’t something that’s a unique event,” he said. “And I think people are looking at it wrong. If you’re upset at the situation, it’s easier to be mad at the migrant than it is to be mad at the political leaders on both sides who won’t change the laws.”

(Do keep reading “‘You Hate America!’: How the ‘Caravan’ Story Exploded on the Right.”)

So, in other words, Trump is sending National Guard to the border not because there’s a crisis, but because of a routine movement of refugees seeking legal asylum from violence. But this is what authoritarians thrive on — manufactured fear and intimidation.

Another of the authors of the new books on authoritarianism wrote that “Western liberal democracies have now exceeded many people’s capacity to tolerate them.” I am reminded of the work of Erich Fromm, the psychiatrist and philosopher who escaped Nazi Germany and had witnessed the rise of the Third Reich firsthand:

“We have seen, then, that certain socioeconomic changes, notably the decline of the middle class and the rising power of monopolistic capital, had a deep psychological effect… Nazism resurrected the lower middle class psychologically while participating in the destruction of its old socioeconomic position. It mobilized its emotional energies to become an important force in the struggle for the economic and political aims of German imperialism.”

“It was the irrational doubt which springs from the isolation and powerlessness of an individual whose attitude toward the world is one of anxiety and hatred. This irrational doubt can never be cured by rational answers; it can only disappear if the individual becomes an integral part of a meaningful world.”

And, again, I blame politicians of both parties for this. Globalism may be an overall good for economies, but too many people were left behind and people in power made no attempt to address their legitimate grievances. And now a large part of our population is uncomfortable with western liberal democracy — as Fromm wrote, they are afraid of genuine freedom — and long instead for the order and security that authoritarianism promises. This is a much deeper problem than just “racism.” I wrote in 2016,

We all have a deep need for a sense of connection to others and belonging to whatever society we are planted in, Fromm said. People who are jerked around and treated as disposable cogs for too long are likely to lose that sense of connection or belonging. And then they are likely to give themselves to an authoritarian dictator, because through him they think they will find power. That’s really what Trump was promising — stick with me, and you’ll share in my power. The system won’t kick you around any more.

There’s no question there’s a lot of racism and sexism and nativism and a lot of other things going on with Trump voters that cannot be tolerated or overlooked. My argument is that those isms are symptoms, not causes, but to deal with those symptoms requires making changes than enable alienated people to become integral parts of a meaningful world. And that won’t begin until we address their economic concerns a lot more seriously and aggressively than we have since Franklin Roosevelt’s day.

But we are reaping the consequences of non-action, and both political parties are to blame for it.

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The Trade War Escalates

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Trump Maladministration

The trade war with China is heating up. Yesterday the Trump Administration threatened to put tariffs on 1,300 more Chinese exports. China has threatened 25 percent tariffs on 106 U.S. products. The stock market promptly dropped 500 points when it opened today.

Conventional wisdom says the stock market is over-reacting.

Paul Krugman:

I think it’s worth noting that even if we are headed for a full-scale trade war, conventional estimates of the costs of such a war don’t come anywhere near to 10 percent of GDP, or even 6 percent. In fact, it’s one of the dirty little secrets of international economics that standard estimates of the cost of protectionism, while not trivial, aren’t usually earthshaking either. …

…Yet there is a reason why stock prices might overshoot the overall economic costs of a trade war. For a trade war that “deglobalized” the U.S. economy would require a big reallocation of resources, including capital. Yet you go to trade war with the capital you have, not the capital you’re eventually going to want – and stocks are claims on the capital we have now, not the capital we’ll need if America goes all in on Trumponomics.

Or to put it another way, a trade war would produce a lot of stranded assets.

Basically, we’re calibrated to be really good and efficient at producing X, and a trade war could push us into producing Y instead, which would require a lot of shifting and re-tooling and moving around of assets. We end up putting resources into producing things we used to be able to import at less cost, and that’s a drag on the economy overall. This also is a big hit on existing corporate assets. So, while a trade war might not bring on the Great Depression, if I had money in the stock market I might be thinking of pulling it out, too.

And then there’s this:

Trump, Navarro et al are showing that they really are as unhinged and irresponsible as they seem, and markets are taking notice. Imagine how these people would handle a financial crisis.

That might be the bigger factor here. The investor class has been happy with Trump, thinking he’d give them the tax cuts and deregulation they wanted. But now it may be dawning on them that they’ve been backing an angry, dimwitted child who has no clue what he’s doing.

 

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Why Calling Mass Shooters “Mentally Ill” Isn’t Helpful

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Trump Maladministration

I usually agree with Martin Longman, but I have issues with his March 29 post, “All Mass Shooters Are Mentally Ill.” He writes,

If you decide, for whatever reason, to kill a bunch of strangers, there’s something wrong with your brain. I’d say that you’re ill. We can debate whether individual shooters know right from wrong and just want to do wrong, or if they’re too mentally impaired to realize that what they’re doing is immoral and illegal. In other words, insanity can be a defense in some cases. But it seems wrong to ask whether or not these people are mentally ill. Of course they are.

I’m not a psychiatrist, but I don’t think Martin Longman is, either. Most of the articles by mental health professionals I’ve seen on this subject say that most mass shooters are not mentally ill. See, for example, “Stop Blaming School Shootings on Mental Illness, Top Psychologist Warns” and “Experts Say There’s Little Connection Between Mental Health And Mass Shootings.”

Regarding “there’s something wrong with your brain” — maybe, maybe not. There are some kinds of mental illness, such as schizophrenia, that can be diagnosed by brain scans, but my understanding is that brain researchers can’t yet sort mass killers from not mass killers using current diagnostic tools.

One neuroscientist doing research into brain configurations thought to be associated with violence was disconcerted to find out that his brain exhibited those same configurations. So, while there may be something to his finding that low activity in the orbital frontal cortex is connected to violent tendencies, that’s not a reliable predictor of anything.

Science aside, popular ideas about what constitutes aberrant behavior signifying “mental illness” often is more about sociology than psychology. For example, there’s a strong correlation between gun violence and a history of domestic abuse, but I have yet to see widespread shrieking that domestic abusers must be “mentally ill.” I guess men who abuse women aren’t aberrant enough yet.

Are Klansmen and lynchers “mentally ill”? Are young  people who run away to join ISIS “mentally ill”? What about Dylann Roof, who’d been raised to be a racist? There’s an article at WaPo about some loser kid still living with Mama with no job, ambition or prospects who has become a neo-nazi, and frankly if he were mine I would have drop-kicked his ass out of my house. Is he “mentally ill”? He’s maladjusted, certainly. Is social maladjustment the same thing as “mental illness”? In which case, who among us doesn’t qualify, at least part of the time? The only difference between “normal” and “pathology” would be a matter of degree.

Three years ago I wrote a post titled “Are Guns Nuts Too Mentally Ill to Own Guns?” I intended the title to be tongue in cheek. But what I had found is that researchers were finding a correlation between men exhibiting angry, impulsive behavior and the ownership of multiple firearms. And men exhibiting angry, impulsive behavior who own multiple firearms are much more likely than other people to become mass shooters. But they don’t all become mass shooters. No psychiatrist can predict with any certainty which of these guys are mostly harmless and which will be the next Stephen Paddock, or which brooding, maladjusted teenager will run off and join ISIS, shoot up his school, kill himself, or straighten up and become an accountant.

In the case of the angry, impulsive gun owners, even if they were compelled to undergo some kind of psychotherapy, unless they want to change (which would be rare) it’s not going to work. Maybe if you kept them on a strong enough dose of Diazepam they’d be less likely to be violent, or at least be easier to get along with. But then they wouldn’t be able to drive cars or operate heavy equipment, either.

“Insanity” is a term found only in law, not in medicine. The idea is that someone who is “insane” is not responsible for his acts and may be found not guilty of a violent crime. But that’s rare. Severely psychotic people, whose thoughts are so scrambled they really don’t know reality from fantasy or right from wrong, generally don’t commit violent crimes, if only because they also tend to be too mentally disorganized to make and carry out plans. Some of our mass shooters, notably Jared Loughner, James Holmes and Adam Lanza, arguably were sick enough that they should have been confined to some sort of group home where they could be monitored. Lanza’s case was particularly tragic in that he’d had a psychiatric workup that recommended a course of treatment, but his parents refused the recommendations. And then his mother kept him at home and catered to his symptoms in a house full of firearms.

So, yeah, sometimes they are “mentally ill.” But most of the time, they aren’t “ill” with anything there’s any treatment for, or that all kinds of other people who don’t become mass killers don’t have also.

So, the “mental illness” label isn’t telling us anything useful. It doesn’t give up actionable information that will sort the mass killers from the general population before they start shooting. But it does (in some people’s minds) provide a handy-dandy excuse for arguing that guns aren’t the problem. But there are crazy people in other countries, too, and somehow they have much lower rates of gun violence. Because they have a harder time getting guns.

See also Guns are responsible for the largest share of U.S. homicides in over 80 years, federal mortality data shows.

 

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Trump’s Swampland Follies

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Trump Maladministration

Today, financial media are bravely declaring that maybe the stock market has corrected all it will correct and will go back up now, but usually buried in the article somewhere is the disclaimer that maybe we’re wrong. Since much of the recent volatility can be blamed on the White House, even the Wall Street guys must realize that they could be standing on quicksand.

Anyway, today’s news

The Environmental Protection Agency signed off last March on a Canadian energy company’s pipeline-expansion plan at the same time that the E.P.A. chief, Scott Pruitt, was renting a condominium linked to the energy company’s powerful Washington lobbying firm.

Both the E.P.A. and the lobbying firm dispute that there was any connection between the agency’s action and the condo rental, for which Mr. Pruitt was paying $50 a night.

“Any attempt to draw that link is patently false,” Liz Bowman, a spokeswoman for Mr. Pruitt, said in a written statement.

Nevertheless, government ethics experts said that the correlation between the E.P.A.’s action and Mr. Pruitt’s lease arrangement — he was renting from the wife of the head of the lobbying firm Williams & Jensen — illustrates why such ties to industry players can generate questions for public officials: Even if no specific favors were asked for or granted, it can create an appearance of a conflict.

Just an appearance, of course.

The E.P.A.’s review of the Alberta Clipper project was one of at least a half dozen regulatory matters before the E.P.A. related to clients who were represented by Williams & Jensen at the time that Mr. Pruitt was living part-time in the Capitol Hill condo.

Williams & Jensen, for example, was lobbying the E.P.A. early last year, according to its disclosure reports, on behalf of both Oklahoma Gas and Electric, a major coal-burning utility, and Concho Resources, a Texas-based oil and gas drilling company. …

…In March 2017, while Mr. Pruitt’s lease at the Washington condo was in effect, the E.P.A. issued a letter giving the pipeline project the second-best rating it offers out of 10 possible scores. The agency concluded that while the project raised “environmental concerns,” the review had adequately examined the alternatives and determined that “no further analysis or data collection is necessary.”

Pruitt is also drawing attention for excessive travel expenses and for bypassing the White House to give favored employees big raises. Even so, Pruitt is likely to keep his job.

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